Jessi Singh knows it’s been a crappy couple of weeks, and he’s got just the thing to turn it around. On Thursday, July 2 he’ll launch his latest venue, Mr Brownie Rooftop Hotel, on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne. Or should we say five venues? Mr Brownie comprises a beer garden, retail store, curry pub, basement lounge and rooftop bar spread over four floors.
As at his other Melbourne restaurants, Mrs Singh, Daughter In Law and Horn Please, this one will specialise in inauthentic Indian food. Specifically British-Indian pub grub. “It’s the food that people think is Indian but it actually doesn’t exist in India,” explains Singh. He’s talking about diasporic staples like butter chicken, lamb vindaloo and chicken tikka masala, as well as more idiosyncratic British inventions such as butter chicken rolls, samosa burgers and curry chips.
There’s also beer, lots and lots of it. More than 1,000 craft brews, according to Singh, available on tap or from the on-site bottle shop (purchases can be cracked open anywhere on the premises for a $3 corkage fee). Down the line, breweries will be invited to take over the taps and run tastings and classes on-site. There are also several wines on tap including, unusually, pet nat. Pétillant naturel is a sparkling natural wine and Mr Brownie will be pouring two of them, from Tasmania’s Domaine Simha and Canberra’s Ravensworth winery, for $10 a glass.
A tenner doesn’t just buy you an interesting drop at Mr Brownie, it also gets you two curries over rice to take home from the ground floor deli. If you’re eating in, you can upgrade to the $15 curry bento box which includes naan, pappadum and pickle. The deli is inspired by Punjabi Deli in New York’s East Village, a favourite hang of students, taxi drivers, immigrants and anyone looking for a good, cheap meal. “The thing about Punjabi Deli is that it's affordable. I want to be part of the neighbourhood so I'm keeping that. Especially for the locals, especially during this Covid era when a lot of people have lost income, you know you can come in here and get a good meal for $10,” says Singh. “It’s beer and curry. Simple, no frills.”
The food might be frill-free but the decor certainly isn’t. On the roof, there’s an open-air 1960s-inspired Tiki bar as well as a Hollywood Regency-style room filled with mid-century red velvet furniture from Singh’s personal collection. The lavish red theme extends to the basement lounge, named the Boom Boom Room in honour of Singh’s favourite bar in San Francisco where he grew up. The ground floor beer garden and first floor pub are filled with colours and neon. It’s all very extra and sexy, and signals that Mr Brownie is here for a good time. But are Melbournians really in the mood to party?
Singh thinks so. “Let's not feel sad or get depressed. Good times are still around and everything will come back. Yes, it will be with social distancing and restrictions, but we will evolve.” The requirement for customers to be seated isn’t going to stop Mr Brownie from hosting DJs Thursdays through Sundays. “You won’t be able to dance but you can sit down and bodyshake,” jokes Singh.
Encouraging people to enjoy themselves isn’t the only reason Singh decided to open a new venture right now. The original plan was to open early in the year but the pandemic and resulting restrictions kept delaying the launch. As the hospitality industry suffered, Singh decided to provide some much-needed employment.
“It’s a really rough time for my industry. So many people rely on hospitality businesses, so that’s why I thought it would be better to open, even at this time. And the community is excited to come back. People don’t want to see abandoned, empty cafés and bars on their streets.”
But Singh also wants the public to know that hospitality businesses are struggling right now, and with fewer bums in seats, they need people to spend money. He says that at his other venues, reservation no-shows are a daily occurrence, which means the restaurants lose money. Mr Brownie won’t be taking reservations and won’t enforce a minimum spend, but will encourage customers to drop at least $35 on food and drink per visit.
“At any hospitality business, I want to encourage customers to spend money if they’re taking up a seat,” he says. That means showing up for a reservation, or at least calling to cancel, and not sitting on your laptop lingering over a $4 coffee. “Forget our old school habits, those days are gone. Bums earn money so if you don’t want to spend any more, then get up and move.”
Although of course, he would prefer you to sit down and bodyshake instead.
Mr Brownie Rooftop Hotel is at 343 Clarendon St, South Melbourne; instagram.com/mr_brownierooftop. Launching Thursday, July 2; open daily 11am-late.